Our Member Interview Series continues with author-illustrator Breanna Carzoo, whose bold illustrations of cut-paper collage and mixed media are featured in her debut picture book, Lou (HarperCollins, July, 2022) and the upcoming, Greenlight (HarperCollins, July 2023). Represented by Jennifer Rofé at Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Breanna has more to come. Watch for her next move!
Where did you grow up, and how did that place (or those places) shape your work?
I grew up in Connecticut; but admittedly, I think I’m still discovering how growing up there affected my work! I was quick to leave the state to go to college in Florida, and I “cut-off” Connecticut from my awareness for a long time. That, in and of itself, has massive influences, and I’m slowly re-examining those through my art.
Did you always want to be an author-illustrator, or did that come later?
It never crossed my mind that an author-illustrator was something I could pursue. I went to college for computer animation, and throughout school I always worried I wasn’t a “good enough” traditional artist. Even when I started bouncing around children’s book ideas in my head as an adult, it took me 10 years to finally sit down and take my interests seriously, begin to investigate what it took, and then admit to others it was something I wanted to do!
If someone were to follow you around for 24 hours, what would they see?
I have no consistent rhythm to my work, but the staples are: decaf coffee, a hammock, SO MANY books in progress, walks in the TX heat, sketchbooks, cut paper scraps, lunch with my husband, a silly dog that looks like a mix between Yoda and a broom, my mess of a studio, and emailing with popcorn.
How does your everyday life feed your work?
I am extremely grateful for the flexibility and space I have now, after many years of overworking myself to pay off student loans. The flexibility allows me to be in touch with how I’m feeling, so that I can create from that place. Being able to honor the energy and feelings of the day (and follow those) allows me to write stories that come from an emotionally deep place and to transform those stories that often come from places of feeling hurt or uncertain into something humorous, relatable, and hopeful at the same time.
Tell us about some accomplishments that make you proud.
Accomplishments that make me most proud are learning how to sit with uncomfortable feelings, recognize them, and speak up for them. I’m proud that I continue to learn how to ask for what I need, and how to trust and lean on others. I think without all of that I would have struggled to pursue writing and illustrating picture books. The act of creating something takes a lot of discomfort and uncertainty, as I make something that’s never been made before! It’s hard to not know if something I’m spending my time on will “work out” or “be worth it.” I’m proud of listening to the quieter voices inside that have led me to take the big leaps in my life, which have made being an author-illustrator possible.
What surprises you about the creative life?
I keep having to re-learn that the act of creativity doesn’t get easier. Each story is unique. Each piece of art has a different reason to want to be told; and each is asking for me to learn and grow more as a person in ways I haven’t yet. Every time I think it’ll be easier, there’s always something new and uncertain to navigate. The only bit that’s easier is that I have perspective that I’ve gotten through it before, and that must mean I can do it again!
When a reader discovers your work, what do you hope they find?
Connection. I hope a reader “feels” something, be it humor or worry, about who we are and how others see us or treat us—this being very specific to Lou. I hope a reader feels seen and less alone in their own experiences, and I hope they get to do that while also getting to laugh at how messy the human experience can feel.
As a creator, what do you do when your imagination is on fire?
I’ve heard it said that excitement often feels similar in the body to how anxiety feels, and that’s 100 percent true for me. It’s fast, hard to keep up, and my brain is moving in many different directions at once. It’s a fun, yet terrifying, adventure!
As a computer animator, what’s your favorite Pixar film and why?
“Ratatouille,” without a doubt! I love a self-discovery journey. Remy listens to what he wants, pushes against what his family and society expect and want from him, and follows his own truth!